Back in 2009, the Masters 1000 series suffered the first significant changes in years, with Hamburg losing its top status and Madrid moving from an indoor hard event to the spring schedule and clay. Staged at the beautiful Qizhong Tennis Center, Shanghai became the eighth Masters 1000 event in the calendar and it turned out to be an instant success, voted by the players as the Masters 1000 tournament of the year until 2013!
World no. 1 Roger Federer and world no. 3 Andy Murray decided to skip the inaugural Shanghai event but the other players from the top-10 were there to fight for the title, with five of them reaching the quarter-final. The top seed Rafael Nadal had to win just two complete matches to reach the final, with Ivan Ljubicic and Feliciano Lopez retiring against him in the quarters and the semis, with Nikolay Davydenko standing as the last rival between him and the title after the Russian prevailed against Novak Djokovic after more than three hours in the semis, taking the deciding tie break 7-1 for his third Masters 1000 final.
The Russian had won the previous two and emerged as a champion in this one as well, toppling Nadal 7-6, 6-3 in two hours and three minutes to become the first champion in Shanghai. It was their seventh meeting, the fifth at Masters 1000 level, and Nikolay claimed his third win over Rafa, preventing the Spaniard to claim the title he was missing, just like in Miami 2008.
Davydenko won 11 points more than Nadal and played better on both the first and second serve, delivering the aggression that kept the rallies on his racquet and reducing Nadal to less than ten winners in the entire match!
The Russian was one of the rare players who could outplay Rafa in the more extended baseline exchanges, showing that in this encounter as well after dominating in the most intense exchanges and staying in touch in the shortest ones as well to secure the straight-sets win.
Nadal gave his best to cross the finish line first and did an excellent job in saving five out of seven break chances, reaching the opening set tie break but managing to steal Davydenko's serve only once from four opportunities, which wasn't enough to propel him over the top against world no.
8. Davydenko found the range right from the start and created three break points in the third game of the match with his trademark backhand volley winner, converting the third with a forehand drive volley winner to draw first blood and move 2-1 ahead.
Another forehand winner pushed him 3-1 up and Nadal responded with a great hold in the next game, hitting a service winner to bring the game home at love and stay within one break deficit. Still, the Russian was on a different level in the first part of the clash, creating an additional two break points in game seven that could have pushed him further in front.
Rafa stayed focused and won the next four points to repel the danger and reduce the deficit to 4-3 with a much-needed service winner. Up to that moment, the Spaniard had hit just 6% of the balls from inside the court while that number was on 37% in the case of Davydenko who was takiong the ball flat and early.
Nadal had to do something more on the return and rather quickly, breaking back in the eighth game when Davydenko sent a forehand long, holding in the next game with a volley winner to move back in front and force the Russian to serve for staying in the set.
The momentum was on Nadal's side now and he had a set point in that game, denied by a smash winner from Nikolay who held after a forehand error from Nadal to level the score at 5-5 and stay in contention. The set went into a tie break after an ace from Davydenko in game 12 and he had the upper hand in the breaker, earning three set points at 6-3 after a loose forehand from Nadal.
The Russian dominated in the next rally and used the first short ball from Rafa to attack and close the set with a backhand winner after no less than 75 minutes of a grueling battle. Nadal's backhand wing was under constant pressure as Davydenko managed to land 90% of his returns to the right wing of his opponent in the opening set, hoping for more of the same in the rest of the match.
Nonetheless, Rafa had a chance to make the first strike in set number two, creating a break opportunity but squandering it after a poor return. Nikolay held after another service winner and we could have noticed he was more and more aggressive as the encounter progressed, hitting more than 50% of the balls from inside the court in the rallies!
He broke Rafa at 15 in the sixth game after forcing a backhand error from the Spaniard to move 5-2 ahead after a brilliant backhand crosscourt winner in the game that followed. Serving for the triumph at 5-3, Nikolay delivered three winners to secure the win and the title, completely outplaying Nadal to become a deserved champion of the inaugural Shanghai Masters.